Decoding reading challenges: Eye movement patterns in Italian-speaking poor readers

Poster Presentation: Tuesday, May 21, 2024, 2:45 – 6:45 pm, Pavilion
Session: Eye Movements: Clinical

Angela Pasqualotto1, Francesco Pavani2, Elvira Fontana2, Paola Venuti2, Michele Scaltritti2; 1University of Geneva, 2University of Trento

Reading is a multifaceted cognitive process involving linguistic abilities, as well as attentional control and eye movements. Poor readers often exhibit deficits in dynamic visual attention (including temporal processing, attention distribution, and sluggish attentional shifting) with an impact on eye movements during reading tasks. In orthographically regular languages like Italian, reading delays in poor readers are manifested in speed rather than accuracy, especially in text reading compared to single words or non-words. This study investigates eye movement patterns in 31 Italian-speaking poor readers (12 females; aged 7 to 14 years) through three carefully designed tasks: two text reading assessments and one pseudo-text reading task — to simulate real-world reading scenarios while accounting for lexicality. Importantly, the stimuli were drawn from standardized and validated assessment batteries, thus ensuring an appropriate control of linguistic parameters that can significantly affect eye movements, such as, such as text difficulty, syntax, word length, and word frequency, can significantly influence eye movements. Eye movements during silent reading revealed distinct patterns among poor readers, characterized by frequent saccades of small amplitude, prolonged fixations, and a high number of leftward saccades. To comprehensively contextualize these observed patterns, participants underwent standardized cognitive and reading tasks, enabling a thorough examination of correlations between eye movement behaviors, reading-related skills (such as rapid automatized naming and phonological awareness), fluid intelligence and age. Notably, the study found the classic lexicality effect (i.e., word advantage over non-words) on saccadic amplitude and fixation duration and count. Additionally, we investigated the impact of linguistic factors on reading, providing nuanced insights into challenges specific to the Italian language for readers with difficulties. These findings have implications for theoretical models of reading and practical interventions targeting reading challenges in children who speak orthographically transparent languages.

Acknowledgements: This research received funding from the PROMOBILIA FOUNDATION - Sweden and the NCCR Evolving Language, Swiss National Science Foundation Agreement #51NF40_180888.